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Alberta Politics

Election bills give Albertans more democracy, less transparency and accountability.

Albertans could soon be given more opportunities to cast their ballots but with much less transparency about and accountability for who is spending money to influence their votes.

The United Conservative Party government continued to unwrap its electoral reform package this week with the introduction of:

Bill 26: Constitutional Referendum Amendment Act: introduced by Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer, the bill amends the Constitutional Referendum Act law to allow for province-wide referendums to be held on non-constitutional issues

Bill 27: Alberta Senate Election Amendment Act: also introduced by Schweitzer, this bill makes amendments to the Alberta Senate Election Act passed in June 2019. 

Bill 29: Local Authorities Election Amendment Act: introduced by Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu, this bill introduces major changes to the law that governs municipal elections in Alberta.

These bills are part of a series of election bills that are expected to also include future bills allowing for the recall of MLAs, municipal politicians and school trustees, citizen initiated referendums, and major changes to provincial election laws.

Doug Schweitzer Calgary Alberta Conservative
Doug Schweitzer

The three bills introduced this week provide more opportunities for Albertans to vote for candidates and on issues, but they also claw back important transparency and accountability rules implemented by the previous New Democratic Party government less than two years ago.

It has almost been 50 years since the last time a province-wide plebiscite was initiated by the Alberta government. Bill 26 would allow the provincial government to hold referendums on non-constitutional issues, like creating an Alberta Pension Plan or deciding if we should remain on Daylight Saving Time. Providing an opportunity for Albertans to cast ballots on important issues can be a powerful tool to engage voters, but the timing and wording of such votes can also be intentionally manipulative.

The bill allows third-party groups, colloquially known as political action committees, to spend up to $500,000 on advertising up from the current $150,000 limit. Third-party groups that spend less than $350,000 on advertising during a referendum would not be required to file financial statements with Elections Alberta.

Schweitzer did not hold a press conference to announce the bill, so it is unclear why he chose to include such a massive gap in transparency.

Changes to municipal election laws included in Bill 29 are being framed by Madu as helping “level the playing field” for new candidates running for municipal councils and school boards by not allowing incumbents to carry over campaign war chests between elections and increasing the amount candidates can spend ahead of the election period from $2,000 to $5,000.

Bill 29 raises the election period donation limit from $4,000 back up to $5,000 and allows candidates to self-finance their campaign up to $10,000, reversing a number of changes made by the NDP government in 2018 that have not had a chance to be tested in a municipal election campaign.

Madu’s bill would also make it legal for wealthy individuals to donate up to $5,000 each to as many candidates as they want in any municipal or school board election across the province, effectively removing the cap on individual donations.

Eliminating the ability of incumbents to store campaign surpluses in war chests for future elections might lower the amount of cash on hand at the beginning of an election campaign. But in Edmonton at least, only two city councillors – Sarah Hamilton and Ben Henderson – reported having surpluses of more than $10,000 at the end of the 2017 election, suggesting that war chests are not necessarily a significant issues in the capital city.

Raising the donation limit could strengthen the advantage of incumbents with name recognition and developed political networks running against challengers who may be seeking political office for the first time.

The advantage of name recognition that helps incumbents get re-elected in large numbers at the municipal level is a feature that predates any of the changes to municipal election finance laws introduced by the previous NDP and Progressive Conservative governments over the past decade. The incumbent advantage even existed when there were no donation limits.

Bill 29 removes the requirement that candidates disclose their donors ahead of election day, which allows voters to see who is financially supporting candidates before they head to the ballot box.

The bill also removes spending limits for third-party groups before the start of the election period, allowing groups like Calgary’s infamous Sprawl Cabal of land developers free reign to spend unlimited amounts of money on advertising before May 1, 2021.

Madu’s Bill 29 introduces big money back into municipal elections under the guise of fairness and without creating any of the structural changes required to design a real competitive electoral environment at the municipal level.

Bill 29 also removes all references to the Election Commissioner, a housekeeping item necessitated by the controversial firing of the Commissioner by the UCP government in November 2019. In its place, the bill creates a Registrar of Third Parties, though it is unclear if the person holding this title would have the legal investigative authority of the now defunct Election Commissioner.

In past elections many municipalities simply did not have the resources available to enforce municipal election finance rules, so in some cases complaints were simply left uninvestigated.

Some of these changes were expected and were included in the UCP’s 2019 election platform, others were necessitated by inconsistencies in the changes made by the NDP in 2018, and some have come completely out of left-field.

Alberta’s election laws should be dynamic and designed to encourage and facilitate participation by voters and candidates, not to hide the identities of those who would spend money influencing election campaigns.

Overall, these bills could probably be summed up as one step forward for democracy and two steps back for transparency and accountability.

Changes coming to provincial election laws

Joseph Schow Cardston-Siksika MLA UCP
Joseph Schow

These changes are likely a taste of what is to come from the recently appointed Select Special Democratic Accountability Committee. Chaired by Cardston-Siksika UCP MLA Joseph Schow, the committee will review Alberta’s Election Act and the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act within the next six months and has be tasked with answering a series of questions submitted by Schweitzer within four months.

Along with Schow, the committee membership includes Drumheller-Stettler MLA Nate Horner, Grande Prairie MLA Tracy Allard, Calgary-Buffalo MLA Joe Ceci, Edmonton-South MLA Thomas Dang, Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche MLA Laila Goodridge, Calgary-Klein MLA Jeremy Nixon, Edmonton-Whitemud MLA Rakhi Pancholi, Highwood MLA R.J. Sigurdson, Drayton Valley-Devon MLA Mark Smith and Edmonton-Manning MLA Heather Sweet.

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 56: Police problems and what meaningful accountability could look like in Alberta

Calls to defund and abolish the police have become a mainstream conversation in reaction to the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis Police officer and countless other murders and examples of systematic racism and violent behaviour by police forces against Black, Indigenous and People of Colour across Canada and the US.

Avnish Nanda Edmonton Lawyer
Avnish Nanda

Edmonton lawyer Avnish Nanda joins Dave Cournoyer on the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the massive shift in the public debate about the role of policing institutions and what meaningful police accountability looks like in Edmonton and Alberta.

We discuss the role of city councils, police commissions, and the provincial and federal governments in policing and how those levels of government can implement police reform. Avnish also shares news about the new Is This for Real? podcast, which is focused on telling stories about experiences Black Edmontonians have had with police (you can support this project on Patreon).

Thanks to our producer Adam Rozenhart for his work making this episode sound so good.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network. The Alberta Podcast Network includes dozens of great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Find us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca. Thanks for listening.

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Alberta Politics

Edmonton’s 2021 election could turn into a horse-race with new Ward boundaries, Senate election & Kenney’s referendum

If you live in Edmonton there is a good chance you might be voting in a different ward when you cast your ballots in the City Council election scheduled to take place on October 21, 2021.

The new Ward boundaries proposed by the Edmonton Electoral Boundaries Commission.
The new Ward boundaries proposed by the Edmonton Electoral Boundaries Commission.

Edmonton’s Ward Boundary Commission released its final report and recommendations to City Council earlier this month which includes newly redrawn wards that better reflect population growth over the past decade and projected growth over the next twelve years.

This is the first major change in ward boundaries since Edmonton moved to a one-councillor per ward model in 2010. Prior to then, Edmonton had used a two-councillor ward system since 1980.

The boundary changes are significant in many parts of the city, including Edmonton’s central and mature neighbourhoods and burgeoning southern suburbs. The changes create three new urban central wards and four new wards in the south that span from more established neighbourhoods in Mill Woods and south Edmonton to areas south of the Anthony Henday Freeway along the southern edge of the city.

The new southern Wards I, J, K and L have a slightly lower average population anticipation of growth in the southern suburbs over the next decade. If population growth does continue in the south as anticipated, those Wards will become more suburban heavy over time.

Ward F spans the North Saskatchewan River by including the southern half of the current Ward 7 and most of the east neighbourhoods of the current Ward 8. This more closely reflects the Edmonton Public School Board ward boundaries, which were redrawn ahead of the 2017 election.

There has been some concern raised that the issues of inner city neighbourhoods like Alberta Avenue could be lost by being included in a Ward F that encompasses the increasingly gentrifying neighbourhoods that straddle the North Saskatchewan River and make up the southern portion of the new ward.

As a resident of the current Ward 7, I suspect that many of the neighbourhoods included in the new Ward F that lie north of the river (including mine) have more in common with the neighbourhoods south of the river than the neighbourhoods north of the Yellowhead Trail.

And in the heart of the city, Ward E would create a new ward encompassing the downtown and some of the city’s core neighbourhoods, including the yet to be developed Blatchford area where the former Edmonton City Centre Airport once stood.

The current ward boundaries (left) and the proposed ward boundaries for the 2021 election (right)
The current ward boundaries (left) and the proposed ward boundaries for the 2021 election (right)

New Ward names recommended

This was the first time the City of Edmonton used a citizen Ward Boundary Commission to redraw electoral boundaries. While the final report needs to be approved by City Council, and is still open for Councillors to tinker with, handing the process to an arms-length citizen led commission is a positive move.

The proposed boundaries are designated by letter rather than by number, as the current wards are, but the Commission’s final report included a recommendation that City Council consider a naming system that is more intuitive to residents than the current one. For example, Canadian cities like Winnipeg and Montreal use named wards, and Ottawa and Halifax use a combined numerical and named Wards.

While the Commission was given a mandate to draw boundaries that could last for the next three elections, to 2029, it also recommended that City Council consider reducing the allowable population variance for future boundary adjustments from 25 percent to 10 or 15 percent.

The final report also recognized the weakness in the public engagement process that was created due to the tight timelines given to the Commission.

Impact on the next election

The changes would undoubtably have a big impact on the next election, and will leave some big questions for incumbent City Councillors and challengers as to where they stand as candidates.

Don Iveson
Don Iveson

A number of councillors have seen their current wards changed significantly, meaning that if they seek re-election they may need to campaign in many neighbourhoods they previously did not represent. While incumbency and name recognition is a big advantage in municipal elections, the redrawn boundaries could expose some incumbent councillors to strong challenges.

And the big unanswered question hanging out there –  whether Mayor Don Iveson runs for re-election – is key. If Iveson does not run for a third-term, it is anticipated that a number of City Councillors could enter the mayoral race creating vacancies in a number of wards.

Councillor Mike Nickel has all but announced his third campaign for the mayor’s office with a series of anti-bike lane and anti-tax internet memes, and other councillors believed to be considering a run for mayor include Michael Walters, Tim Cartmell, and Sarah Hamilton. It is also rumoured that former councillor and federal cabinet minister Amarjeet Sohi could throw his name in the mayoral race, and, if so, he would be a formidable candidate.

Shaye Anderson NDP MLA Leduc Beaumont
Shaye Anderson

The provincial government is also expected to introduce sweeping changes to Alberta’s municipal campaign finance laws ahead of the October 2021 vote. Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu was expected to introduce the changes during this year’s spring session of the Legislature, but the COVID-19 pandemic has likely delayed those changes to the fall.

Former Municipal Affairs Minister Shaye Anderson introduced changes in November 2018 that banned corporate and union donations in municipal and school board elections, and set a strict time limit on fundraising for municipal election campaigns.

Municipal candidates will compete with Senate election and referendum

The 2021 municipal elections will also coincide with the province-wide Senate nominee vote and a province-wide referendum promised by Premier Jason Kenney on possible issues ranging from equalization to withdrawal from the Canada Pension Plan, though it remains unclear what the ballot question will actually be.

The injection of provincial and federal issues and political parties campaigning during the same period as the municipal election could create some very interesting dynamics, and leave important local issues typically reserved for civic elections fighting for voters attention.

It is widely suspected that the decision by the United Conservative Party to resuscitate the Senate nominee elections (where candidates will be ostensibly running under federal party banners) and hold a province-wide referendum during the municipal election campaign is being done with the goal to generate attention for partisan conservative issues and increase support for conservative-aligned candidates running at the municipal level across Alberta.

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 53: COVID-19 provides cloud cover over Alberta’s economic crisis

“…in a crisis there are no capitalists left. Everybody is a socialist.”

Zain Velji Daveberta Podcast
Zain Velji

Zain Velji, campaign strategist and Vice President Strategy at Northweather joins host Dave Cournoyer and producer Adam Rozenhart on this episode of the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the how COVID-19 is providing cloud cover to and accelerating Calgary’s economic problems and how the pandemic could provide an opportunity to reshape politics and policies at the municipal, provincial and federal levels.

We also discuss whether the United Conservative Party government is pushing forward with a now outdated agenda and we dive into wild speculation about how this pandemic and economic crisis could impact the 2023 election in Alberta.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB. The Alberta Podcast Network includes more than 30 great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Find us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca. Thanks for listening.

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 49: Radical Sabbatical. Climate justice and Alberta politics with Chris Gusen

Is Alberta ready to face the challenges of climate change?

Climate activist and communicator Chris Gusen joins Dave Cournoyer to discuss Alberta politics, climate justice, and a Green New Deal on the latest episode of the Daveberta Podcast.

Chris shares some insight into his transition from his role as the Alberta government’s Director of Identity to his current volunteer efforts with Extinction Rebellion and Climate Justice Edmonton, and what meaningful action against climate change could look like in Alberta.

Daveberta Podcast Alberta Politics Dave Cournoyer Adam Rozenhart
Daveberta Podcast

As always, a big thanks to our producer Adam Rozenhart for making the show sound so good.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB. The Alberta Podcast Network includes more than 30 great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Find us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca. Thanks for listening!

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 48: An urban big city agenda in Alberta. Municipally Speaking with Mack Male

More than half of Albertans live in Calgary and Edmonton, so why does it feel like big city issues are an afterthought for the provincial government?

Daveberta Podcast Alberta Politics Dave Cournoyer Adam Rozenhart
Daveberta Podcast

Mack Male joins Dave Cournoyer on this episode of the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the state of local media in Edmonton, Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu’s paternalistic approach to municipal relations, the review of the Local Authorities Election Act and how it might change the rules of the 2021 municipal elections, and whether there is hope for ever getting a real urban agenda for Alberta (plus free transit and gondolas).

Mack is a co-founder of Taproot Edmonton and co-host of the Speaking Municipally podcast, which focuses on Edmonton City Council and municipal issues in Alberta’s capital city.

A big thanks to our producer, Adam Rozenhart, for making this episode sound so good.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB. The Alberta Podcast Network includes more than 30 great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Find us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca. Thanks for listening!

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